Friday, 29 May 2015


Today's Canal - Trent and Mersey

The weather forecast for today was for a rather wet morning - it was correct! we needed to make a prompt start as we were heading to Willington so that we can catch a train first thing tomorrow morning to take the girls back home - or at least to Reading. Willington can be a popular mooring and early arrival is necessary to find a mooring close to the station.

It was already raining when we awoke and even heavier by the time Mike was ready to start. As soon as he cast off, another boat - a HireaCanalBoat from Sawley - also started just ahead of us. This was handy as Mike was, at this stage, ready to work the lock on his own. Shardlow Lock was just a couple of minutes the other side of the main road bridge.

The four people aboard the other boat were very cheerful despite the weather but this was their first main day and only their second lock!

Yesterday when we walked up to Shardlow village we noted that many of the buildings had names such as Shardlow Grange, Shardlow House - this, seen across the fields, is Shardlow Manor, now offices and a day nursery!

After the next lock they opted to take a break - dry out and have coffee. Mike just stayed wet and had his coffee handed out through the back cabin door!

At Weston Lock there was no other boat in sight so Mike, now with assistance from the rest of the crew, came up the lock only for a boat that had been moored up a little earlier arrived. He was clearly in a hurry.

However, by this stage the rain had cleared for a while and at least three boats that had been moored overnight above the lock were preparing to set off. It was clear that at least two of them bitterly resented not having done so a couple of minutes earlier! By the time we arrived at Swarkestone Lock there was a line of four or five boats mooring behind us. A couple of boats were already entering the lock from above.

Just before Swarkestone Lock we could see Swarkestone Old Hall Pavilion, built in the seventeenth century. Its original purpose is in some doubt but it gradually was allowed to fall into disrepair until taken over by the Landmark Trust. retaining only the main structure, they have converted it into stylish holiday accommodation.

These locks are set quite well apart but are also very deep. The boat that had been most immediately following - and barely said hello when we first passed them - wanted to get on as fast as possible. As a result they not only opened the top ground paddles as quickly as possible but also immediately lifted a gate paddle. Whilst this might fill the lock just that bit quicker it is also in these locks highly dangerous and there are clear notices warning not to do so! They made it clear that something was wrong with us for wanting to take things just a little safer . . .

One of the next boats waiting below was also rather grumpy and drew the bottom paddles as quickly as possible, failing to notice that the top gate they had once shut had immediately drifted open (many around here do this) As a result, we struggled at max engine power to avoid being sucked back into the lock - they then let the top gate close with a tremendous bang with the force of the water.

Anyway, our lock sharing boat set off at high speed and it was not a surprise to find that at the next lock they had already turned it. As it happened, this lock had three very helpful and knowledgeable volunteer lock keepers - they had be no more impressed than we had.

The five huge cooling towers of the former Willington Power Station (built in 1950's) continue to dominate the landscape even though the rest of the plant has long been demolished after the closure in 1990's. Last year planning consent was given for the construction of gas fired units on the site although elsewhere there are reports that some of the land may be used for an extensive housing estate.

We arrived at Willington just after two thirty to find that there were still a couple of spaces close to the station. Amusingly, the next boat on was the boat that had raced ahead of us but at least we were able to moor with a space in between.

Christine, Alice and Jess walked to the village to find a shop - a newspaper and a card for their other grand parents whose golden wedding anniversary party they are going to tomorrow. Christine also chatted to a fender maker on a boat by the road bridge and thought that one of his might make a good replacement for our existing bow fender which was beginning to look rather worn.

Mike took a couple of photos of our bow so that we could check that the fender on offer was suitable - it was and so Mike walked back to the boat, the proud owner of a brand new bow fender. He had to keep a straight face as he walked past the aforementioned moored boat - which as it happens also claims to be a fender maker. The irony is that Mike had thought about asking him about a new fender until put off by their lock behaviour!

Finally, Christine and the girls took a look at The Dragon, a pub beside the canal, and booked a table for 6:15 for us all to have a meal out.

Meanwhile, Mike successfully fitted the new fender (never an easy task, leaning over the bow, trying hard not to drop any of the bits in the water - at times it really needs three hands!)

By now, the rain had well and truly cleared and it was a bright sunny late afternoon.

11.6 Miles - 5 Locks

Thursday, 28 May 2015


Today's Canals - River soar, River Trent, Trent and Mersey

Most of the day was warm and with sunny spells - although we did have one sharp shower that lasted at least five minutes! Before setting off, Alice and Jess took Mike to see the field and footpath that they had explored yesterday evening. Mike was taken by the tree which, as Alice noticed, was partly dead but new life had sprung out.

The girls were also surprised to find that the crops had already grown taller than they were.

Mike could only find a single poppy.

Back then to the boat and time to set off down Zouch Lock just a few metres on from our overnight mooring.

Most of the morning was then taken up with completing the remainder of the River Soar Navigation, including the very deep Kegworth Lock. This relatively new lock was built as part of enhanced flood protection in the 1980's but the old one can be seen alongside. About the only time when it is safe to jump off the call wall!

The lock is also different from others on this navigation by having risers to help with keeping the boat in place as the water rises or falls.

There did not seem to be much traffic into or out of the East Midlands airport today, but we did see a couple of FlyBe planes coming in to land. Wonder if either had come from Newquay?

Ratcliffe Power Station - which we had seen in the far distance from the top of the Carillon Tower yesterday - gradually began to dominate the scene.

Eventually we reached the end of the River Soar and made a sharp, sweeping turn right to go up the River Trent.

Very soon we passed the entrance to the Cranfleet a Cut and then the start of the Erewash Canal at Trent Lock.

The double locks at Sawley were the next target - the right hand one is mechanised and we shared with a boat that had arrived just a little earlier (we had not seen it on the run up the river).

Time then for lunch as we moored just above the lock so that we could also use the full range of facilties. A nearby field and a gnarly tree provided good distraction.

It was then back out onto the Trent through the flood lock and just a little later at Derwent Mouth we were able to turn off the rivers and back onto the Trent and Mersey Canal.

After mooring at Shardlow Wharf we walked up to the village, well over a kilometre away to the only shop. Apart from a newspaper we also bought ice creams but it was only when we reached the next bus shelter that we could find somewhere to sit and really consume them properly!

Further back we took a look at the church - sadly not open for visitors today. In the churchyard there is a beacon structure - at least a local lady confirmed that this is what it was meant to be although a fire in the brazier would not do the central wooden post much good!

Finally we stopped to visit the small canal museum housed in one of the old warehouses of Shardlow Wharf, once a vitally important inland port.

The lady who told us about the beacon also told us about a small playground not far away and so, before returning to the boat, the girls went with Christine and spent at least 45 minutes there. Meanwhile, Mike went straight back to the boat to set about preparing the evening meal.

9.1 Miles - 7 Locks

Wednesday, 27 May 2015


Today's Navigation - River Soar

We planned to spend much of the morning in Loughborough, at least to stock of shopping as this will probably be the last stop on this trip. The rest of the journey does not really come very close to even a small village shop. (Tomorrow's target is Shardlow and we have learnt the hard way that it is quite a hike to the nearest shop there and it is not very large)

Last night, Mike had tried to book train tickets for Saturday on-line but each attempt had failed, locking up at the final stage of Booking Confirmation. Concerned that he might already have paid twice for tickets that we cannot receive, he first checked with the credit card company that not authorisations had been given. Then he tried again, this time with the laptop rather than the tablet - this gives a different interface and was successful. he specified that the tickets should be collected from Loughborough station.

So, as soon as Jess was ready to go out, (rather pleased with slightly different plaits) she and Mike set off to walk along the towpath most of the way to the station.

From there it was only a short street away from the station car park entrance. Near the station building was an interesting art work, made principally from tiles designed and made by students from the RNIB College in Loughborough.

Hooray! The tickets we ready and the machine recognised all of the details and eventually printed out the appropriate documents!

Some people had a strange sense of appropriate patio ornaments!

Back at the boat, the others were by now ready and we all set off to walk into town to do some shopping. Christine had located via the internet a specialist butcher on the High Street which we visited first.

On the way to Sainsbury for most of the items we wanted, we could see the top of the famous Carillon tower not far away. So, leaving Christine to make a start of the shopping, the others walked to the park where the tower is situated. It was a pleasant sunny morning and everything looked very fresh and attractive. They discovered that the tower is open from 1 pm onwards.

They also took a look at the small aviary with plenty of exotic birds chattering away, some looking as if they were attempting to escape by gnawing through the bars of their prison!

The three caught up with the one in Sainsbury with still quite a few items to track down so by the time we had lugged it all back to the boat it was just about lunch time.

Jess especially thought that a visit to the Carillon tower would be interesting so as the girls ate their lunch, Mike reversed the boat back into the basin where we had seen that spaces were now available.This meant that he could sue the sani station and rubbish disposal - it is a little distance before the next opportunity.

After lunch we walked back again to the park and entered the tower. They soon discovered that it was built as a war memorial after the Great War to commemorate the people from the town who had died in combat. The main feature is the climb up the spiral staircase first to two further museum rooms followed by the level with the carillon keyboard. Next came the bell chamber where 47 bells are hung and finally they emerged onto the lookout gallery.

Here they had an amazing view all across the town and in the distance to Ratcliffe Power Station. (Not sure who was more scared, Jess or Mike but they held each others hand for comfort and kept close to the inside wall!)

Back at the bottom they all had a chance to watch a short video which showed how the carillon is played as well as talking a bit about why the tower was built.

Outside, Alice and Jess asked if they could spend some time in the park - they had spotted from up above that there were various items of equipment to try out. They headed for a swinging basket thingy which kept them amused for some time before Mike was able to drag them away to catch up with Christine who had gone straight back!

Finally, we were able to set off but only managed a couple of locks before deciding to moor.

At Loughborough Lock there was a sign warning that dredging was taking place and that there might be delays of up to 30 minutes. We could see something ahead but fortunately they pulled in to let us pass!

Bishop Meadow Lock brought back memories of 1967-1970 when we moored our tiny boat here. A friendly volunteer lock keeper helped us through.

Below this lock we returned to the River Soar, much wider and faster.

Although Normanton, with its well known church alongside the river, has a sign about when the village shop is open, there is actually nowhere to stop as all of the houses jealously guard their private river frontage. There are small chalets but some of the larger properties almost begin to remind us of the Thames!

Just above Zouch lock is the only place we were sure that we could find a mooring - it was very much more popular this time than when we have stopped here before. In any event it was turning rather chilly but not enough to deter the girls from spending some time exploring the towpath, footpath and fields nearby.

3.5 Miles - 2 Locks